Most incarcerated King County minors are currently held in the Youth Services Center, a facility for offenders under the age of 18. However, some teens who have been charged as adults are currently held in adult facilities, such as the Maleng Regional Justice Center (RJC).
King County Executive Dow Constantine changed that on November 2, when he signed an executive order stating that all incarcerated minors should be housed at the Youth Services Center.
In response to the executive order, five teens have already been moved from the adult RJC to the Youth Services Center. All of the incarcerated teens will be moved to the Youth Services Center by March, 2018.
Offering better support for incarcerated minors
A University of Washington School of Medicine study released in August had previously recommended that young offenders be transferred from adult facilities to juvenile facilities where they could receive age-appropriate education and services.
King County has long had a goal of "zero youth detention." Constantine says that the executive order is a step towards that goal. At the Youth Services Center, the county will be "better able to provide developmentally responsive and appropriate support to this age group."
Lawsuit filed regarding treatment of minors at RJC
The executive order came just days after a federal lawsuit was filed on behalf of a group of teens in custody at the RJC.
The lawsuit alleges that the teens had spent days or months in solitary confinement. The lawsuit also alleges they did not receive proper educational services or recreational opportunities. Some of them spent as little as ten minutes a day outside their barren cells.
In response to the lawsuit, King County Council Vice Chair Rod Dembowski has introduced legislation that would ban solitary confinement of minors in all King County correctional facilities.
Research shows that solitary confinement of juveniles can lead to "depression, anxiety and even psychosis," and it has been banned in the federal prison system since 2016. Solitary confinement is already banned at the Youth Services Center.
The potential consequences of juvenile crime convictions
Washington State juvenile law allows youth ages 16 or 17 who are charged with certain violent or serious felonies to be automatically tried as adults. This is called an "auto-decline." Even younger children can potentially be tried as adults via a "discretionary decline" request.
Whether they are tried as adults or children, interaction with the criminal justice system can have serious consequences for young people. The University of Washington report mentioned above cites other research showing that:
- Youth who are incarcerated in secure facilities are up to 80% more likely to engage in criminal behavior later in life.
- 70% of youth entering the justice system have a diagnosed mental health condition or conduct disorder. Incarceration has been found to aggravate those existing conditions.
- Youth who come into contact with the juvenile justice system experience barriers to securing education, jobs and housing later in life.
Because the goal of Washington's Juvenile Court System is the treatment and rehabilitation of juvenile offenders, there may be alternatives to incarceration. An experienced juvenile crime defense lawyer can often prevent a case from proceeding to juvenile court or help minimize the potential for incarceration.
If your child has been accused of a crime, Steve Karimi's experience as a former prosecutor can be put to work on your child's behalf. To defend your child accused of crime, call or contact Seattle juvenile crime lawyer Steve Karimi.